Monday, 21 September 2009

Criminal Literature

The last couple of years have seen a worrying surge in criminal prosecutions involving literature, whether over the offensiveness of the writing itself, or the belief that the fictional ideas expressed amount to planning notes for future real-life action - an approach that gives lie to not only a misunderstanding of art, but an apparent ignorance that art even exists.

The latter was evident in the prosecution of "lyrical terrorist" Samina Malik, who wrote poetry expressing violent Islamic fundamentalism, and more recently of Manchester schoolboys Ross McKnight and Matthew Swift, who wrote fantasies about a Columbine-style attack on their school. Both these cases were presented as planning exercises by the prosecution, despite there being no physical evidence of the means to carry out an operation and a distinct literary bent to the written evidence.

Harder to defend but perhaps more relevant to this blog is Darren Walker's story "Girls (Scream) Aloud" a violent, misogynist piece of pornographic writing about the pop group Girls Aloud posted to a specialist slash fiction website, which saw him prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act. Despite its frankly repulsive content, it actually isn't that far from "Girls (Scream) Aloud" to the violent celebrity fantasies in JG Ballard's "The Atrocity Exhibition" and "Crash". There are obvious differences in execution and content (not to mention quality), but it is difficult to deny Walker's claim that he similarly intended his work to be satire. The ambiguity of intent rears its head time and time again in censorship prosecutions, and gives lie to the difficulty of reducing art to objective legal terms and definitions.

In an intelligent opinion piece in Saturday's Guardian David Edgar asserts that it isn't actually a failure of logic - whether confusing fiction and reality, or attempting to bend artistic ambiguity into a black and white legal framework - that drives these prosecutions, rather an attitude that doesn't attach any importance to art, to the point of it being acceptable to ban or prosecute over a piece of work if there is the mere possibility of it being harmful. It's not an angle I've considered before, but does make sense in a country that has regularly banned art in the past on a seemingly ad-hoc basis for cheap political gain.

We can take hope from the fact that none of the three cases outlined above resulted in a successful conviction; but that the prosecutions went ahead on such spurious evidence reveals not only a disregard of whether it was right or wrong to do so, but an uncaring attitude to the effect it will have on the lives of the defendants, now tarred for life as terrorists, weirdos and perverts. Not surprising that a hostile attitude to art should extend to the artists themselves, but forgive me if I find the mentality behind it much more frightening than anything the defendants themselves produced.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Cannibal Apocalypse

Director: Antonio Margheriti
Writers: Antonio Margheriti and Dardano Sacchetti
USA/Italy 1980

A fun film with above-average production values that nevertheless isn't scared to use stock footage in proper exploitation fashion, Cannibal Apocalypse sees cannibalism brought to America by Vietnam vets in the form of a virus which then spreads, nicely merging the cannibal and zombie genres. Furthermore the sexualised nature of the cannibal attacks, usually carried out Dracula-style as the cannibal goes in for a kiss only to bite off a breast or a chunk of neck, brings in a bit of sexy vampirism as well - so what we have are essentially vampire zombie cannibals, breeds that aren't that far apart anyway when you think about it.

Cannibal Apocalypse's main drawback is the (relative) lack of gore and scares, but despite a bit of a lull in the middle it's a fast-paced, action filled movie with some good location work. The inevitable anti-climax as we move from the exciting "Delta Force"-style opening scenes in Vietnam to boring American suburbia is familiar in Italian exploitation horror, but a later supermarket siege and the film's climax in the city sewers are more imaginative than I've come to expect from the Video Nasties. It's home to some of the best unintended humour I've come across in the genre as well, a psychiatrist telling a woman concerned about her husband: "I always said you should have married me instead. But anyway, speaking professionally..." being one of the gems in a line-up that includes weeing on tear gas cannisters to put them out, a cannibal called Charles Bukowski and a romantic paedophile sub-plot for our main hero, played by B-movie legend John Saxon.

Most importantly the ingenious crossing of cannibals, zombies and vampires remains, as far as I know, unique in horror cinema - though god knows why, given how tired contemporary zombie films are becoming. The present paucity of imagination is underlined by the way this cheap exploitation film casually tosses it in as if coming up with new ideas isn't actually that difficult. The baffling failure of modern identikit zombie films to even copy this suggests that maybe it isn't.